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A response to the proposed apostolic constitution 2

The Papal Apostolic Constitution allowing groups of Anglicans or Ex-Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church –Part 2


In my first paper on this matter that I wrote last week, I concluded that relatively little would happen as a result of Pope Benedict’s initiative and described it as ‘much ado about nothing’. It would appear that the leader writer in the ‘Church Times’, the most widely read weekly Anglican newspaper in England, agrees with me. Last Friday he wrote,

‘On the Anglican side, the view appears to be gaining ground that, for those people who have been petitioning Rome repeatedly and insistently, the time for persuading them to stay passed some time ago. The issue for them has ceased to be how to fit into the Anglican set-up, but whether the Pope’s offer meets their desires. Just how many of these petitioners there are remains to be seen, of course. When those in “irregular marriage situations”, and those who were formerly Roman Catholics, and those who have difficulty accepting the Roman Catholic Catechism in its entirety, and those who object to the removal of lay people from government are excluded from the figures, there might well be fewer than expected’.

Anglicans receiving communion at a Roman Catholic mass

In view of what I wrote, several people raised with me the question of whether Anglicans should/can take communion at a Roman Catholic mass. The official Roman Catholic position is that only communicant Roman Catholics are allowed to receive communion at an RC mass. Only in very extreme circumstances can an exception be made. However, whilst that is the official view, the reality on the ground is often quite different.

As some of you may have experienced yourselves, if you ask a Roman Catholic priest whether as a communicant Anglican or as a communicant member of another Christian Church, he will admit you to receive communion, the answer quite often is “Yes”. Some will say “No”, upholding the official line. But many others, providing one can express some understanding of ‘real presence’ in the Eucharist, will happily allow you to receive. Sybille and I have a Roman Catholic priest friend in Spain who is a paid-up member of Opus Dei, who would be quite upset if we didn’t receive at a mass at which he was the celebrant!

About twenty-five years ago, an agreement was reached between the Anglican Church and the French Roman Catholic Bishops Conference. This allows for Anglicans in France, if because of distance they cannot regularly attend an Anglican Chaplaincy, they may with the agreement of the local Roman Catholic priest, receive communion from him. Quite how this squares with the official RC position emanating from Rome, I’m not sure!

Roman Catholics receiving communion at an Anglican Eucharist

Let me also take the opportunity to address this issue about which I’m also asked about from time to time.

The wording in our service booklets, which is the official wording of the Anglican Diocese in Europe, states quite clearly;

‘We invite to receive Holy Communion, all baptised persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church’.


Therefore, communicant Roman Catholics are always welcome to receive communion when attending St. Clements, as I know many regularly do.


Of course, the official Roman Catholic position is that lay Roman Catholics shouldn’t, as the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of Anglican orders which therefore means that the sacrament is not valid! Once again however, the reality on the ground is quite different.


When I am asked by lay Roman Catholics whether they may receive communion in a service where I am the celebrant, I always draw their attention to the wording that appears in our service booklets. I usually also add that, “Whilst the Pope would not approve of you doing so, I suspect that God would!” It is then up to the conscience of the individual concerned.


At the recent Clergy Pastoral Conference in Cologne, I was talking to a female Anglican priest who works in a non-stipendiary capacity in one of the Chaplaincies in France. Her Chaplaincy, like many in France, uses Roman Catholic Churches for their services with the agreement of the local Roman Catholic hierarchy. She told me that, she has celebrated the Eucharist in a joint bilingual service with Roman Catholics, and has had local Roman Catholic priests receive communion from her and in turn, the priests then encouraged their laity to do the same.


The Anglican Chaplain in Barcelona has also told me a similar story. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, he and his congregation attend a mass in the nearby Roman Catholic Church where they are all invited to receive communion. Then later in the week, the Roman Catholic priest and his congregation attend a Eucharist at the Anglican Church where the priest and his flock all also happily receive communion. The Anglican Chaplain did ask his Roman Catholic colleague how he got away with doing so, knowing what the official position of the RC Church is. The priest’s response was, “Rome is a long way away!”


Rome to Canterbury


One thing I did mean to mention last week but forgot to do so.


Much is made by the sensationalist end of the media, about the number of clergy and laity who might ‘go over to Rome’ as a result of this recent papal initiative. As I’ve previously said, I believe it will be very few for the reasons I outlined and as extremely well expressed in the ‘Church Times’ leader article I quoted above. However, what the press hardly ever mentions is the traffic that comes the other way – those who travel ‘from Rome to Canterbury’.


Over the twenty years of my public ministry, I’ve known many Roman Catholics who have happily worshipped as Anglicans. I am aware of quite a number within the current St. Clement’s congregation. Some do take the formal step of being received into the Anglican Church but many do not. It is now perfectly possible to remain a lay Roman Catholic but be on the Electoral Roll of an Anglican Church or Chaplaincy. Anglicans are quite inclusive!


Whilst doing some internet research, I was particularly pleased to find a recent speech by Bishop Tom Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, to the first meeting of his newly elected Diocesan Synod. Commenting on the publication of the Papal Apostolic Constitution, he remarked that there has always been movement between the two Churches and that his own diocese had been well-served by several clergy who were former Roman Catholic priests.


How many former Roman Catholic priests are now working as clergy within the Anglican Church is a figure it seems no one can come up with. But within the Church of England alone it is probably at least two hundred at an educated guess. It may well be more. Some come across because of wanting to be married. Others do so because they cannot accept aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine or ecclesiology. But unlike any who ‘go over to Rome’, who the Pope insists must be ‘re-ordained’, (in reality as far as the official line of the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, ordained for the first time), those priests who travel ‘from Rome to Canterbury’ are just received into the Anglican Church. They do receive some training in Anglican ways but their original ordination and previous public ministry are regarded as being totally valid.


Ricky Yates – 20th November 2009